MLS referees have come under some scrutiny in recent weeks on the heels of some hotly debated officiating decisions, but Peter Walton, the general manager of the Professional Referee Organization, still feels his group is among the world's best.
In an appearance on ESPNFC on Tuesday, Walton said that MLS has “better referees than the majority of countries around the world” and brushed aside the notion that the league should bring in European officials.
“That’s always been one of these points that’s been made. I’d spin it around, actually. Looking around the world, at soccer at the moment, I wouldn’t be surprised if people kept knocking on my door asking for some of my referees to go over there and referee,” Walton said when asked for reaction to Orlando City head coach Adrian Heath’s suggestion that MLS bring in referees from Europe.
“I think we’ve got better referees than the majority of countries around the world and I don’t see why we bring foreign referees in here just for the point,” he continued. “They’ll still make mistakes, just look around the world, they still make [mistakes].”
Walton’s comments came after some controversy in Week 7, including Columbus defender Michael Parkhurst being mistakenly identified and sent off late in Crew SC’s win against New York City FC on Saturday. Then a pair of contentious decisions led to late goals for both teams in the 2-2 draw between Orlando and New England on Sunday.
The Orlando-New England game was particularly fractious. First, the Revolution were upset with Baldomero Toledo’s no-call of an apparent handball by Kevin Molino just before the Orlando midfielder scored to give the Lions a 2-1 lead in the 92nd minute. The controversy shifted to the opposite end of the field a couple of minutes later, when Toledo whistled Orlando midfielder Servando Carrasco for a handball outside the box. After conferring with the other officials, Toledo changed his decision to call Carrasco’s infraction inside the area, giving New England a penalty kick which Lee Nguyen scored to earn the 2-2 draw.
Several Lions players indicated they thought the handball decision was incorrect after the match, and Heath told Orlando radio station 96.9 The Game on Monday that he thought the penalty decision was “a makeup” call for the no-call on the handball on Molino’s goal.
Walton addressed the apparent infraction on the Molino goal, telling ESPNFC that it was a “clear handball,” but denying that the Revolution PK was a makeup call for Orlando’s late goal.
“No such thing as a makeup call,” he told the studio panel. “There was added pressure on Toledo then for his next decision, and I think that contributed to him giving that next decision, the pressure on him in terms of giving that decision correctly — not a makeup call.”
MLS rescinded Parkhurst’s red card and the accompanying suspension and fine on Monday, and re-applied the card to Crew SC defender Tyson Wahl, who made the challenge that Parkhurst was mistakenly sent off for by referee Ted Unkel.
Walton spoke with ESPNFC about the decision, which saw Unkel show Parkhurst a red for a tackle Wahl made on NYCFC’s Kwadwo Poku in the box, with NYCFC earning a penalty for the call.
“It might be an easy spot, but it’s not the first time and it might not be the last time [there will be a mistaken identity],” Walton continued. “When we look back at other leagues, there were two or three last season in high-profile leagues and people saying, ‘How did they get that wrong?’
“It doesn’t make it any better, I’m not justifying it — what I’m saying is that this not a new occurrence and it will occur again. It’s down to the likes of me to ensure that these issues occur fewer and fewer and fewer.”